Paradigm is a person’s world view or the way one looks at or sees the current situation. In ranching, it’s the way you operate or run your business. Throughout my career as a ranch manager, and especially now as a consultant and speaker, I’ve met and talked with a lot of ranch managers and owners.
Usually after giving a talk, a number of people will come to visit with me. I’m still somewhat surprised when some assure me there’s no way my suggestions will work in their environment. Others express appreciation for the ideas, tell me they’re already using some of them, and thank me for the additional insights into how to progress further.
I know ranchers who are “absolutely sure” they’re doing exactly what should be done on their ranch despite the fact they’re losing money. Others seem to understand there is a better way to do everything they do; they just haven’t discovered it yet. They even admit that radical changes may be needed to make them profitable, or more profitable.
It’s easy to get caught in “paradigm lockdown.” I think we all do to a certain extent. However, some continually resist paradigm lockdown; they’re always looking for new ideas and better ways.
After having been involved in ranches in several very different locations, I know it is unrealistic to expect that all my ideas in this column can be used in all situations. The ideas simply are presented as a “mind stretch” to help readers think differently, or expand their thinking to embrace and evaluate new and different ideas. The objective is to become a “possibility thinker” – a person who asks himself, “What could I do that would make this ranch more profitable? Is there something radically different that we should consider and analyze?” This should become an attitude or mindset that is revisited frequently.
Many ranchers do what they do very well but still aren’t profitable, or are only minimally profitable. Thus, improving what you’re currently doing will seldom yield significant bottom-line improvement. Spending money, time and effort to improve your pregnancy rate, reduce death loss, make calves bigger, or to make yearlings gain more are all important, but won’t make the big improvement often sought. As ranchers, we have a strong tendency to do things right – and we’re very good at it. We should spend more time on being sure we are doing the right things.
The big changes in profitability usually come from radical changes in grazing management, changes in cow size and heterosis, changing from cow-calf to cow-calf and yearling, yearling, or vice versa, changing the calving season to better align feed requirements with the availability and quality of grazed feed, doing things to enable more grazing and less feeding or to make a drastic reduction in overheads.
At first thought, these changes almost always seem impossible or impractical, but there’s usually someone not too far away who is already doing one or more of them. I understand. I was there, mentally and emotionally, for far too long. In my online article of Aug. 28, 2012, I related an experience with a rancher in northeast Wyoming that began to jolt me out of paradigm lockdown. Since then I have made a concerted effort to meet and talk to people who are doing things differently.
Don't be afraid to ask questions
I have found, and I think you will too, that most ranchers who are out-of -the-box, radical, possibility thinkers are willing to let you know what they are doing and why they do it. My approach has been to state what I think I have seen or heard about their ranching methods and ask if I have it right. Usually I don’t have it right. Looking over the fence and thinking we know what is happening is usually not accurate.
I want to discover what the rancher is doing and why he is doing it. I can eventually ask how it affects the bottom line. I don’t expect and usually don’t get an exact number, but most are very anxious to let you know how well it worked.
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Why do I approach it that way? Because it’s a waste of my time to guess at what is being done; so I want to know with accuracy. I also want to know the motivation and reason for doing something different. The answer to that is usually profitability – either to greatly reduce expenses and losses or to improve productivity, often both.
The mental and emotional attachments to paradigm lockdown usually begin to crumble when we recognize and admit a lack of profitability, recognize that others are ranching with much less overhead than we are, or see others who are grazing much longer each year than we are. We then begin to ask ourselves what we can do to be more competitive.
To overcome paradigm lockdown become a possibility thinker, look for people who think and do differently; then visit, see, learn and understand. Then analyze the fit to your operation. If a new idea won’t significantly change cows per person, fed feed in relationship to grazed feed, acres required per cow, or the price received for your animals in comparison to others, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not a very good idea.
Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager of Deseret. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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